When Abraham Lincoln took office as President on March 4, 1861 - the United States was a divided country with slavery as the key issue before the nation. In order to preserve the Union, it was inevitable that something had to be done in America. The differences of the states spiraled into America's most dreadful and bloody civil war.
The Civil War (1861-1865)
From the very beginning of the Civil War, both northern Whites and free Blacks came forth to join the Union Army. From the start, both black slaves and freeman regarded the chance to serve in the military as a method for abandoning their chains and to prove their loyalty and worthiness to this nation. For some unknown reasons, some black slaves, chose to remain with their masters and aided them on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
As the bloody war went on, many slaves ran away from their masters and joined the Union Army. Hundreds of these slaves were crossing into Union territory. Soon the separate regiments of all black troops were formed in the military.
Other Blacks became volunteers in semi-military or military support positions. Blacks did not have the right to join the Civil War until August of 1862; at that time Blacks received the endorsement of Congress to serve in the Civil war. Uncertainty was all around, until Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and the ex-slaves got the right to be inducted into the U.S. Union Armed Forces.
As the casualties on both sides of the war rose more soldiers were needed. Lincoln needed success consequently the Emancipation was aimed at getting more recruits. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed those slaves in the states under the jurisdiction of the Confederacy.
After the Emancipation Proclamation a door was wide-open for Blacks to serve in the Civil War.
Thousands of volunteers came from the newly freed slaves out of the Confederate states. In order to handle the recruitment and organization of all black regiments, a Bureau of Colored Troops was formed on May 1, 1863, by the War Department. These units were called the United States Colored Troops, and people had doubts about their competency, loyalty, and bravery; they were under close scrutiny from all areas. White officers were commanders of these troops, and acceptance of ex-slaves by these commanders was not always keen. Some notable recognition came to these troops (Brown 1867, 198-205) when the 54th All Black Infantry Regiment out of Boston displayed fearlessness, when they charged Fort Wagner.
More than 300 African-Americans died at the Fort Wagner assault. Today, the role played by the blacks is acknowledged (Asbell 1999, Preface & Acknowledgement):
??Those black men who wore the uniform of their country some of whom died for it are entitled to be recognized for their commitment. The battles that were fought and the hardships endured were the same regardless of skin color. When the bugle sounded the charge and the bullets flew, the color of one's skin made no difference; all fought for the same cause (Preface and Acknowledgements).
By the end of the Civil War (McPherson 1965, 128), more than 186,000 black men had served in the U. S. Armed Forces, and over 38,000 died in an attempt to be part of America's inclusive freedom. The meritorious Congressional Medals of Honor was awarded to twenty-four black soldiers. About 360,000 troops died in the war, on the Union side. On the Confederate side, around 260,000 troops died.
The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865.
The Reconstruction (1865-1877)
The whole of America, including the South, had to be rebuilt, and, despite the South's hostile resistance, African-Americans were slowly and gradually becoming part of this nation. The long awaited citizenship for Blacks was confirmed in 1868, by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. By 1870, the 15th Amendment was passed to the Constitution, which gave blacks the right to vote.
The Reconstruction, although short-lived, showed the first real attempts of inclusive freedom for African-Americans.
Gains were taking place: Citizenship, Voting, Education, and Politics.
Role of Ex-Slaves after the End of Civil War
There are a large number of African Americans who played a significant role in the post civil war era, making great contributions at various levels of society despite major hurdles. Out of these heroes George Washington Carver and Ida Wells-Barnett seem to be great role models for all times.
George Washington Carver (1860-1943)
Carver was one of the best-known agricultural scientists of his generation; he was born into slavery near Diamond Grove, Missouri. Carver and his mother were kidnapped by slave raiders, when he was a six-week old infant, but his owner allegedly ransomed him back with a $300 prize racehorse. While still a boy although Carver had to work and live all by himself, he managed to finish high school and became the first African American student to enroll at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa.
He also put himself through the Iowa Agricultural College by working as a janitor, earning a B.S. in 1894 and an M.
S. in 1896 in agricultural science. After completing his Masters, Carver joined Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute to direct Tuskegee's agricultural research department, until he died in 1943.
At Tuskegee, Carver concentrated on convincing Southern farmers to add other crops and curtail their reliance on cotton that had ruined the soil, producing more poor crops. The key according to him was in diversifying by planting sweet potatoes and peas.
To make these crops more profitable Carver did extensive research and produced more than 300 derivative products from the peanut and 118 from the sweet potato. In 1923 Carver won the Spin Garn Award, the highest annual prize given by the National Association for Colored People. In 1938 he took $30,000-- his entire life's savings--and founded the George Washington Carver Foundation to continue his work after his death. After his death in 1943 the rest of his estate went to the foundation. He was buried on the Tuskegee campus.
Ida Wells-Barnett 1862-1931
Ida Wells was born to a slave cook and a slave carpenter. She was a prominent anti lynching leader, suffragist, journalist, and speaker. At 16 after the death of her parents, she took over the raising of her siblings. With the support of the black community, Wells attended Rust College and after graduation she became a teacher.
In May 1884 Wells won a case against a railroad for forcefully removing her from a segregated ladies' coach. This proved to be the catalyst needed in making her more militant. Ida was part owner and editor of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight; most of her time was spent in writing about the deprived conditions of black children in local schools. She became diligent in her anti lynching crusade after the 1892 lynching of three of her friends. She wrote "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases". In 1893 Wells went to the Chicago World's Fair with her fight for equality, she stayed in Chicago and helped in the growth of numerous black female and reform organizations.
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